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More on Gardenhire’s Questionable Thought

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I already despaired over Gardehnire’s bullpen usage. Here, I despair over his thinking over lineup construction, specifically, who to put in the second spot in the batting order. He is such a victim of the “old school” conventional wisdom.

Aaron Gleeman, who writes a lot about the Twins, wrote a post about this in which he pointed out:

Gardenhire has used middle infielders in the second spot regardless of on-base skills and overall hitting ability, and not surprisingly the results haven’t been good. None of the seven players with at least 75 starts in the No. 2 spot had a .350 on-base percentage there and only Revere, Jason Bartlett, and Orlando Hudson were above .330. Cristian Guzman, who started most often in the No. 2 spot, had a terrible .283 OBP there, and Luis Rivas was even worse at .276.

The stupidity of Gardenhire’s approach lies in its acceptance of making outs at the top of the order. Sacrifice bunts, after all, are intended to trade outs for advancing a baserunner one base. In certain situations they are good plays, such as, say, in the late innings of a tight game in which one run can either tie the game or put your team ahead. But, as a general rule, unless you know one run is all you will need, playing for one run is not a great strategic decision.

However, the really, truly stupid part of his approach is his past reliance on low-on base percentage players as second-place-in-the-batting-order hitters. On-base percentage measures the proportion of times a hitter reaches base out of all his plate appearances. It is, in short, “not-make-an-out” percentage. After all, 1 – OBP=the percentage of times an out is made. Thus, putting low-OBP guys into the second spot of the batting order amounts to putting out-makers at the top of the lineup. Why, oh why, would one do that?!?

During the dead ball era, when extra-base hits were rare, errors were common, and run production was low, it made sense to put a guy who could “handle the bat” into that slot of the lineup, as advancing runners without basehits was a skill upon which managers put a premium. But the reason that skill was important was that it wasn’t easy to get a hit because baseballs just didn’t travel that far. They were kept in play until they were practically mush, discolored and all scuffed to hell. Now, however, when balls leave play after hitting the dirt, the batter always has a brand new baseball to hit.

The fact that lots of errors were made is important too, for if there is a decent chance the fielders will make an error, bunting does not amount to an automatic out. But as equipment and fielding skill has improved over time, sacrifice bunts almost always result in outs.

But, putting the bunting aside, the use of low-OBP middle infielders in the second spot is just plain perverse in a game where (a) making outs helps the team in the field, (b) teams have limited numbers of outs to work with in a game, (c) you only win by scoring runs and scoring runs requires producing baserunners.

Gardenhire just appears to be living in another century when it comes to thinking about the game of baseball. Sure, there were plenty of sacrifice bunts in the World Baseball Classic, but that doesn’t make it the smart play, particularly at the Major-League level.

Intentionally making outs should never be encouraged.

And it is nice to see Mauer in the 2-spot in the lineup, even nicer to think that the Twins’ resident stat-head may actually be getting through to Gardenhire. Now if he could just sell Gardy on optimal relief pitcher usage. Of course, Gardy is hardly alone in using his bullpen suboptimally, as Jim Leyland showed us this past week. Hell, the entire sport uses bullpens suboptimally.

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Written by jjvedamuthu

April 7, 2013 at 16:41